Welcome back to Tech in Teaching, a recurring series inspired by the HP dm4 BeatsTM Edition. Over the next few months I'll be interviewing public school teachers about how technological developments have affected the education process over the years
Today's subject, a 29-year old, Williamsburg-dwelling, special ed. math teacher, has asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash from his administration. This may seem overly cautious in an age where seemingly everyone is infected with digital logorrhea, but there are many instances of teachers who have faced disciplinary measures because of innocuous things said online. Below, he pontificates on social media's effect on the classroom and the ultra-modern tools he couldn't teach without.
How long have you been teaching, and why did you get into the field in the first place?
I teach high school special ed. math, and just finished my fourth year. My father was a high school teacher, but I never thought I'd follow suit, until a girl I was dating offered me a sub position at her school. I took the job mainly to be around her, and while the relationship didn't last, I found that I loved teaching.
How has technology helped empower learning-disabled students?
New developments in technology have benefited all students, but especially those who are enabled by alternative teaching methods. I can make trigonometry real by triangulating a position on Google Maps, or use Gapminder to illustrate how statistics are shaping our world. I often direct my kids to TED and RSA videos in hopes showing them something new.
Using these kinds of tools, it's possible to take a subject that for many kids can be static and dull and transform it into something that dazzles.
What gadgets do you teach with regularly?
My personal laptop, a school projector, and a SMART Board — which is basically a touch-sensitive whiteboard that connects to a computer. It's kind of like being Tony Stark in Iron Man, only not that awesome or that holographic.
With the SMART Board , you can bring three-dimensional geometry to life by rotating images with your hand, and animate graphs to show the input and output of various functions. It really has made abstract concepts much more tangible. A mentor of mine always says, "If you can convince a student they can hold it in in their hand, they will hold onto it in their mind."
Do you think kids today are different — or learn differently — because of their access to new technology?
They seem even more impatient. The act of discovery is often a race to see who can Google fastest. They are often only concerned with the right answer. Not the "how?" or the "why?"
Do you try to integrate emerging technology in your lesson plans?
I try, but school budgets are stripped to the bone. In fact, my school is actually laying off our only Technology teacher in order to save money. This is in part because administrators are mostly older and don't understand the need for new methods.
Has the prevalence of social media affected the classroom? Can it be used as a learning tool?
Not to sound like an old fogey, but, by and large it has had only a negative effect. It distracts the kids and makes it easier for them to cheat. Although, the old methods still totally prevail. Just the other day we suspected a group of kids were copying answers off of a paper towel stashed in the bathroom.
I think there is potential to use social media as a learning tool, but the Department of Education forbids most online teacher/student interaction. In fact, I have to use aliases for my email, Facebook, Twitter etc., so that my students can't find me.
How does technology affect your testing and grading practices?
The potential effects are incredible. For instance, with the TI-Nspire you can distribute, grade, and deliver feedback all through the calculators (if you have them). Unfortunately, the administration I work for refuses to embrace the developments. My school doesn't even have a Scantron machine.
Is technology ever used as a crutch in the classroom?
Definitely — not only for students, but for lazy teachers as well. Technology must be used to motivate students, rather than used to anesthetize them with a flashy show. However, when it's used well, technology really can revolutionize learning for many otherwise tuned-out students.
Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming editions of Tech in Teaching. And head here for more information on the ultimate advancement in classroom technology, the HP dm4 BeatsTM Edition, HP's incredibly light laptop — engineered specifically to deliver the best-sounding, richest audio of any PC on the planet.